What does Ron Zook do with Juice Williams? Juice Williams is a great talent at quarterback for the Illini, but he just can't seem to take that step to elite status. In his sophomore year he was so inconsistent that Ron Zook actually pulled him in some games in favor of Eddie McGee. It was the same year that Illinois played in the Rose Bowl. Last season Williams kept a firm grasp on the starting job, but could not duplicate the success that the team had in 2007. Williams has always been a dual threat both with his arm and feet, but he is best served when Zook does not have to rely on him throwing the ball to win the game. Juice is very erratic with his pass accuracy and in 10 games where he has attempted 30 or more passes, the Illni's record is an eye popping 1-9. I don't think that it is the attempts that are hurting him, it is the scheme. Zook needs to roll out Williams so he has that pass-run option. Keep the patterns short and simple, and you will see the Illinois offense succeed.
Is there hope for Michigan fans this year? Anything has to be better for Wolverine fans who saw their team go 3-9 and miss a bowl game for the first time in 34 seasons. Most of the fans I talk to have high hopes for incoming freshman quarterback Tate Forcier. All I say to them is that I hope he is made of steel. With Steven Threet transferring and Nick Sheridan suffering a leg injury in spring practice, Forcier is now the #1 quarterback by default. In the fall he will be joined by fellow true freshman Denard Robinson, but it seems for now that it is Tate's job to lose. It is going to take a few years for Rich Rodriquez to get his players in place for his system, but will the Michigan faithful wait that long. Defensively they should get a little better, but that is not enough in my opinion. They are very green at the skilled positions on offense, and their offensive line isn't exactly stellar. Luckily for the Wolverines, the Big Ten will be down a little this year so they should be able to win more than 3 games this year.
Can Purdue and Wisconsin rebound from disappointing 2008 seasons? Last year many thought that the Wisconsin Badgers were one of the sleeper teams that could rise up and win the Big Ten. Well we found out that you cannot win the Big Ten without a defense and a quarterback, and now with PJ Hill Jr gone, you can add running back to that list. The Badgers were once a team with a strong offensive line and a solid, but not spectacular quarterback. They come into this year with the same questions (as last year) at quarterback, will it be Dustin Sherer? Can John Clay be an every down back now that Hill is gone? The Badgers have a VERY young offensive line with a lot of inexperience, which doesn't bode well for developing quarterbacks. I expect a lot of the same struggles for the Badgers as last year; as well as a middle of the pack Big Ten finish. Purdue didn't have quite the same high expectations, but having Curtis Painter come back for his senior season was suppose to solidify their offense. But in Joe Tiller's last season, Painter went on to have a very lack luster senior season, and now it is up to Joey Elliott and Justin Siller to duke it out for for the starting job. Also gone is running back Kory Sheets but hopefully replacing him is senior Jaycen Taylor who has some experience for the Boilermakers. Taylor missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in preseason practice. Besides the defensive ends and secondary, the Boilermakers are going to have a new look come 2009, that includes the head coach Danny Hope. Unfortunately for Purdue fans, this program will take a few more steps back before it breaks into the upper half of the Big Ten.
Will Ohio State be able to reload enough to go to its 5th straight BCS Bowl game, and 7th in 8 years? Yeah you read that correct, Ohio State has gone to a BCS Bowl game 6 times out of the last 7 years, a feat that is pretty impressive if you ask me. Coming into 2009, however, they have to replace a lot of fire power on offense; as well as most of their offensive line, secondary, and linebackers. Their quarterback situation with Terrelle Pryor, is locked up for the next two years at least, but Beanie Wells is gone...and so are Brian Robiskie and Hartline. Potentially it could be a problem in Pryor's development if he doesn't find receivers to throw to, and expect him to take more of the load running the ball also. What the Buckeyes' have going for them is their stellar recruiting. They have been in the top 10 each of the past few years, and Coach Tressel made a point last year to go out and recruit a ton of stud linemen. It'll be up to him and his staff to quickly develop this talent to become a Big Ten contender. The beginning of the season could be a little rocky; particularly the USC game, but with the way the Big Ten looks to be shaping up in 2009, there is no reason why the Buckeyes can't finish on top of the Big Ten or even high enough in the BCS Standings to warrant another BCS Bowl invite.
Does the Big Ten have any legitimate National Title contenders this season? For those who read the blog regularly, you know I am a Big Ten fan...so it might mean a little more when I answer this question with an emphatic NO! Due to the fact that the Big Ten has taken some huge public relation hits the past 3 seasons, for any team in this conference to go to the BCS Title game, they would have to be undefeated. Right now, I cannot say that any team in this conference is completely enough on both sides of the bowl to go through the season unscathed. I've talked about Ohio State's issues; last year's champion Penn State will be replacing 3 wide receivers, 4 offensive linemen, most of their secondary, and two All-American defensive ends. Michigan is 2 to 3 years away from contending, Minnesota has too many questions on defense, Michigan State has too many questions on offense (replacing Hoyer and Ringer), and Iowa doesn't have the consistency at quarterback. I expect another year of the pundits making fun of the Big Ten for not being elite anymore. Meanwhile it might be best for the conference to only get 1 team in the BCS Bowls. That way they match up better down the line and restore some of the image they lost. 2009 is going to be an interesting season in the Big Ten. I expect the champion to have at least 2 conference losses, and it could be a year where a Minnesota or Michigan State finally break through and win the Big Ten. For their sake, however, they better hope USC is in the BCS Title game.
Big Ten Spring Game Dates Illinois (April 25) Indiana (April 18) Iowa (April 18) Michigan (April 11) Michigan State (April 25) Minnesota (April 25) Northwestern (April 25) Ohio State (April 25) Penn State (April 25) Purdue (April 18) Wisconsin (April 18)